Picasso’s masterpiece from first James Bond actor’s Collection valued at US$19 million

Sean Connery is best known as the first ever actor to play James Bond in the 1960s.

Alongside his illustrious acting career, Connery was also an avid art collector – he acquired Picasso's Buste d’homme dans un cadre (Bust of a Man in a Frame) during his later years. After the British actor’s passing in 2020, the painting will be auctioned for the first time. 

In May, the painting will lead the 20th and 21st Century Art Evening Sale at Christie's Hong Kong. It is expected to fetch in the region of HK$150 million (around US$19 million) dollars.

Sean Connery 

Pablo Picasso | Buste d’homme dans un cadre, Oil on canvas

Created in 1969
92 x 73 cm

  • Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris (no. 19623)
  • Private collection (acquired from the above circa 1978)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate upon request (Expected to fetch in the region of US$19 million)

In 1965, aged 84, Picasso suffered from a stomach ulcer. During his recovery period, he was motivated by the paintings of Golden Age Masters such as Rembrandt and Velazquez. Picasso also re-read his favourite literary classics – such as Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers – which inspired him to create the Musketeers series of paintings.

Four years later, in 1969, Picasso created Buste d’homme dans un cadre as part of the Musketeers series – after a 17th century triple portrait by French painter, Philippe de Champaigne. Beginning with Cubism, Picasso often represented his subjects from multiple angles, so it is clear that this triple portrait from the age of the musketeers appealed to him. 

In the painting, the protagonist is depicted with intense black eyes and a goatee – resembling Cardinal Richelieu from Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. Clad in 17th century European costume, these figures are reminiscent of the epoch’s swashbuckling masculinity. Part historical and part fantastical, the musketeer figures were vessels through which the artist portrayed himself.

Picasso suffered from a stomach ulcer during his later years. During his recuperation period, he created the Musketeers series of paintings 

Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers classic (1844)

Although Richelieu is portrayed as a villainous character in Dumas' novel, his features are vividly depicted in this present painting. In addition to the distinctive facial hair, the leftward pointing nose, stacked eyes and brows, sharp cheekbones and wide collar of his costume recall the directness and intensity of Rembrandt’s self-portraits.

Picasso used trompe l’oeil (optical illusion) devices to portray the protagonist as well. Grey dots of smoke move up towards the sitter’s right brow, cease across his face, and resume at the outer corner of his left eye. They drift upward enlarging as they go – dispersing across the top of the painted frame in round blotches of pale grey paint. A painted frame also obscures the boundary between the painted scene and the living world outside of it.

While Picasso’s subject matter in this present painting took references from Old Masters, he also turned to a modern artist for inspiration – Vincent van Gogh. Emulating the Dutch painter, Picasso also used a vibrant colour palette and gestural swirls of richly applied paint on the protagonist’s head, collar and the surrounding frame.

Philippe de Champaigne's Triple Portrait of Cardinal de Richelieu (circa 1640) | National Gallery, London

Rembrandt van Rijn's Self Portrait (1658) | The Frick Collection, New York

After its completion, this painting was released on the market through Galerie Louise Leiris – a Parisian gallery that represented Picasso's works. Sold to its first collector in 1978, it was then purchased by Sean Connery. After his passing, the painting was consigned to Christie’s by his family.

Connery's son, Stephane, said that his father admired and owned numerous works by Picasso. After visiting museums – such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. – Sean purchased Buste d’homme dans un cadre. He was impressed by its expressive power and freedom. 

Stephane added that his father liked Asian culture, so it was fitting that this present work is auctioned in Asia.

Picasso's Mousquetaire a la pipe II (1968) | Christie's New York, 2021 

In November 2021, Picasso's Mousquetaire a la pipe II (The Musketeer and the Pipe II) painting was sold at Christie's New York. Created in 1968 and measuring 146 by 96.5 centimetres, it realised US$34.7 million dollars with buyer’s premium.

Measuring 92 by 73 centimetres, this present painting is around 47 per cent smaller than The Musketeer and the Pipe II. Using the latter’s sale price as a benchmark, Buste d’homme dans un cadre would cost around HK$130 million (around US$16.5 million) dollars.

In 2021, Picasso’s Musketeers paintings was also sold in Hong Kong. Similar to Buste d’homme dans un cadre, Buste d’homme (Bust of a Man) was also created in 1969. Measuring 116 by 89 centimetres, the painting fetched HK$108.9 million (around US$13.8 million) dollars.

In recent years, Western art is continuously gaining popularity in the Asian market. One of the most sought-after names by collectors, Picasso’s auction record in Asia is Femme Accroupie (Crouching Lady, 1954) – which garnered HK$191.6 million (around US$24.6 million) dollars in October 2021. Whether Buste d’homme dans un cadre can set a new auction record remains to be seen, and The Value will keep readers updated on its auction result.

Picasso's Buste d'homme (1969) | Sotheby's Hong Kong, 2021

Auction Details:

Auction House: Christie’s Hong Kong
Sale: 20th and 21st Century Art Evening Sale
Date: 26 May 2022